There are very few musicians in the progressive scene who have such a diverse output as Clive Nolan. While many think of him only as the keyboard player in Pendragon or Arena, he has also been involved in multiple others bands and projects, and back in the Nineties he appeared to have his hand in most of what was going on in the UK in one way or another. When he came out with ‘Alchemy’ in 2013 it was quite a shock to many that he was now so heavily involved in a theatrical production, but in truth this was a direct follow-on to his works with Caamora and his earlier collaborations with Oliver Wakeman.
Here he now pursues a style which was made famous by Oliver’s father with ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’ as we have a story with narration (take a bow Ross Andrews as your contribution is immense), with different singers taking on different parts but none of them have a speaking part. This removes it from his own earlier works, and there is also more overt orchestration, with some wonderful choral sections, yet there is still rock at its heart with Scott Higham keeping it going at all times. Interestingly, some of the music is very traditional and folky, and the result is something which is probably one of the most diverse of his releases to date. Certainly it is one of the most compelling, in that he has somehow brought together a huge variety of styles which all blend and work effectively, while compressing the elegy into a summarised version of the story that is fascinating for the listener.
It would not be possible to tell the full story in a single album, but here we have the highlights of Beowulf, how he saves the king from Grendel and then Grendel’s mother, before dying himself many years later as he saved his own kingdom from the dragon. I played this after listening to his album with Oliver, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, for the first time in some years while also re-acquainting myself with ‘Alchemy’, and although there are hints of both of those in this one, in reality this is more complex, broad and deep. The performances from everyone is one wonderful, while Clive himself takes care of the orchestration and keyboards, and when playing this on headphones I fell into the world of Beowulf and did not want to leave.
Recorded during lockdown, Clive describes this as a secular oratorio, which is a great way to think of it, as when the choirs lift then it certainly is an apt description. This has been made available as a 2-LP vinyl as a Limited Blood Red and regular black edition (both with a booklet) and a CD Earbook, a vinyl-size hardback book containing four discs: the album, a special instrumental version of the album, and a documentary on DVD and Blu-ray formats. The vinyl comes as a Limited Blood Red and regular black edition, both with a booklet.
It certainly deserves all the care and attention given to it in terms of release, as the music contained within the package is very special indeed.
10/10 Kev Rowland